Leonard Peltier has been in prison for nearly 40 years
Published September 26, 2015
COLEMAN, FLORIDA – Today the International Tribunal of Conscience is being held in New York. New York. The Tribunal was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the forced disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico and with this year’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly and a concurrent visit by Pope Francis.
Leonard Peltier is incarcerted at the U.S. Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida for his 1977 conviction in connection with a shootout with U.S. government forces, where two FBI agents and one young American Indian lost their lives.
Peltier, who is considered a political prisoner of war by many, released this statement today through the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee:
Greetings my friends and relatives,
As I look past my prison cell door, I contemplate the many doors and walls that are between myself and freedom. Despite having been twice recommended for transfer to a medium security facility since coming to USP Coleman I, I am currently warehoused in a maximum security facility in Florida. These maximum security prisons are each surrounded by a high wall. For us inside there is no horizon.
As I think about these physical obstacles to my own freedom, I wonder how many walls are between YOU and freedom. How many of these walls are invisible—like the imaginary borders created by colonizers, power brokers, and governments—that are nothing more than obstacles to the free migration of Indigenous Peoples?
I’m greatly honored to be an absentee participant in this International Tribunal of Conscience. I notice that the 43 disappeared students from the Rural Teacher´s College in Guerrero have long since faded from the news cycle. It is imperative that these young people, who were mostly from Mexico´s poorest Indigenous communities, are never forgotten. Perhaps the students involuntarily serve as a reminder that our collective struggles are far from over. Death squads are still prevalent, and it is always the poor and most vulnerable people who endure the most suffering and injustice. These death squads are the same around the world as they all serve the same master—greed—that spurs humans to torture, terrorize, and kill others, forgetting that we are truly all related.
One aspect of my case that is not widely known is that in the 1970s there were these same death squads on the Indian reservations. Corrupt tribal police, were armed and propped up by federal forces. Prior to the firefight on the Pine Ridge Reservation on June 26, 1975,—an incident for which I have now served nearly 40 years in prison—some 60 people who were connected with the resurgence of our traditional spiritual practices and renewed struggle for sovereignty were murdered or disappeared.
During the preceding 5-month period, more incidents of violence were reported on the reservation than in the rest of South Dakota combined. In the subsequent search for my codefendants and myself, the people of Pine Ridge were terrorized by these paramilitary groups led primarily by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Innocent people were intimidated, threatened, and brutalized. To date, none of these acts of terrorism have been fully investigated.
On behalf of myself and the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, I wish to thank the organizers of the International Tribunal of Conscience, the National Lawyers Guild, and our hosts at New York University. I encourage all defenders of human rights to continue to work together on our common issues in the struggle for our existence.
In the Spirit Of Crazy Horse…